No One Belongs Here More Than You
Miranda July, No One Belongs Here More Than You, Canongate, 2007
Although she has worked in the US as a performance artist for over ten years, Miranda July is perhaps best known as the writer, director and star of Me and You and Everyone We Know, the darling of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. With this collection of short stories, July expands upon her considerable creative vision without alienating any of her followers: No One Belongs Here More Than You retains the same original, poetic appeal found in the rest of her work.
The voices in July’s narratives belong mostly to women, though the male personae are equally powerful. What unites this eclectic range of anonymous characters is an overwhelming willingness to give in to external forces; their lives are irrevocably changed by single moments of varying brevity. A woman lies in bed waiting for her attacker, whose approach is felt in painstakingly vivid slow motion. A husband and wife share dinner in the artificial silence of a movie background that allows them to connect for the first time. A teenage girl makes love to a “dark shape” years before finding him in corporeal form. These are tales of movement and shifting emotions, crafted with a heartbreaking fragility.
July’s tenderness allows us to explore each story in the context of its own unique world, which sometimes leads the reader to unwittingly forgive characters their dark and mysterious tendencies. Whether this is the mark of a sensitive writer, or merely a manipulative one, is a matter of debate, but there is no doubting the skilful handling of delicate nuances. July here taps into one of the key features of any relationship: she points to the difficulty in catching the ‘right’ moment between two people, one which is soaked in truthful meaning and emotion.
It may perhaps seem dismissive to say that July’s work belongs to a genre which is almost exclusively preoccupied by the study of love and sex. Her writing rises way above the usual formulae to present something utterly fresh and captivating. Perhaps the key difference here is that July is interested almost exclusively in flawed and fractured relationships: her characters are bruised, alternate versions of the contented wife or the perfect boyfriend. Love can be beautiful, but in the hands of July loneliness becomes even more so.
The stories themselves are often so short as to be little more than meditations, a notion which fits well with the truth-seeking tone of the book. What little dialogue there is slips seamlessly into the general framework of the narrative, adding to the weird, dreamy sensation felt while reading. Despite this, No One Belongs Here More Than You remains impossibly light, happily avoiding the tedious density of other narrative-heavy texts. It is difficult to imagine anyone failing to engage with July’s writing at some level, but it is conceivable that those who do not appreciate the eccentricity and sensuousness of her work could well identify her artistic flourishes as needlessly pretentious. It’s a tough argument to make though: the stories here are charming, warm and perfectly measured, without a single word, thought or idea which could reasonably be considered unnecessary. July is far more likely to upset the fans who revel in her indie quirkiness; reading these stories, there is no doubt that widespread recognition and mainstream success are within July’s reach.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Charlotte Stretch lives in Brixton where she is a freelance writer and an editor of 3:AM. She is currently working on her first novel.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, May 28th, 2007.